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Rise of the Robots

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As the loud music echoes through the stadium, you watch anxiously as your team places the symbol of your hard work and dedication on the platform. For months, you have been preparing strategies, designing tools, and constructing your vision into reality. This is the thrill of a robotics team member.

On April 8-10, around 15 Pres students, from freshmen to senior, attended the Silicon Valley Regional Competition (SVR) to compete against 53 other teams from all over California, and even China and Turkey.

The Presentation Invasion, aka Team 2135, sported their team uniform to show their team spirit while competing at San Jose State: a navy shirt (with a robotics theme), dark jeans, closed toed shoes, goggles for safety, and yellow suspenders. They were one of only three all-female  teams at SVR this year, and they represented women in STEM with confidence and sophistication as they celebrated their tenth season as an official robotics team.

This year, the theme of the competition was “First Stronghold,” a medieval inspired match that is based on the game “Capture the Flag.” At the beginning of the year, they were given a mission: build a robot that can pick up a rubber ball, or a “boulder” and shoot the boulder at the “tower” of the other team while maneuvering around various obstacles on the floor.

On the days of competition, Team 2135 is split up into three groups: pit crew, driving team, and the scouts. The pit crew can be found in “the pit” at anytime during the day. The pit is where all of the robots are kept and repaired. Every team is assigned an area where they can set up and prepare for the competition. The driving team controls the robot when the team plays against their opponents. Last, but not least, the scout team observes and takes notes on the various robots that perform during the day. These notes are kept and analyzed to see what strategies worked better for other teams.

During the “build season,” the crew is divided in a different fashion. Those who want to design and build the robot often work together to fabricate their ideas and different methods to accomplish their goal. The Public Relations team publicizes and fundraises in order for the girls to build something with quality materials. Lastly, the programming group codes the software to allow the driving team to control the movements of the robot.

The amount of time that these ladies dedicate to the robot is immense. Freshman Bailey Chu says, “Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to juggle [robotics and playing a varsity sport]… but after golf season, I get to go a lot more and it’s a lot of fun.” Students can come into the shop every weekday after school and from 10am to 6pm on the weekends.

What attracts students to the robotics team? “I’ve always loved math, so I talked to the mentors during club day and I just tried it out and I really liked it,” says senior and co-president Liana Rix.

Co-president Senior Chris Dhayanand adds, “I knew that I really liked engineering since freshmen year, but I wasn’t sure about the different types of it. I learned about design and building, and I realized that I loved it.”

Robotics offers many different skills for girls interested in math, science, or engineering, but it also teaches them life skills and leadership qualities too. Mentor Jeff Mullins has been around since the very beginning. He recalls a graduate who went to the University of Arizona and asked to be a part of the robotics team during a club faire. The boys at the table were apprehensive because they didn’t know if she had the skill set to be an asset to the team. But the Pres alumna was firm and confident in her abilities. She was able to stand up for herself and back it up with an impressive ability to code and design.

He recalls, “She wasn’t going to get all of that experience at college except for what she did here. She wouldn’t have been able to be captain [for two years]. This way, she got a head start and she got through that obstacle.”

This year, an astounding 15 freshmen showed an interest in robotics and the different aspects of STEM. These freshmen aren’t just passively watching their teammates, either; they are learning and developing the group in their own ways. Freshman Samantha Yang came up with the idea of a design book. At competitions, she noticed that a lot of the other teams had design books containing pictures and descriptions of the tools and pieces that they created to build the robot.

Even though she conceptualized the book on her own, she still looks to the elders on the team. “Yeah, I definitely look up to [the seniors],” Yang says.

Indeed, it looks like robotics will be here for a long time into the future. It just goes to show that, if you give a Pres girl an opportunity, she’s going to take it.

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Rise of the Robots